Review In A Nutshell:
When it comes to coming of age films, they are generally a hit and miss for me as I don't particularly have a particular type of film within the genre; all I look for is an entertaining story for me to invest in. The coming of age genre, over time has developed its own clichés that many films can't seem to shake out of, which is why when I come into a film from the genre, I ensure to lower my expectations and hopefully the film would deliver enough original aspects that it wouldn't end up being a waste of time.
The film's plot is certainly light in its tone but heavy in its themes. Steven Soderbergh, the film's screenwriter and director, has delivered a tale of a young boy who lives in a cruel world and has to do what he can in order to survive. I was on board with his journey right from the start as the film establishes the connection with the character right from the start, using the film's small but abundant complications to threat our protagonist at a deep level. There are a number of scenes in this film that feels heartbreaking to watch, the graduation would be a prime example, and the fact that Soderbergh was able to deliver more than just one, shows me how gifted of a writer he is. The film's final act may come off at first as sentimental and forced, but with everything that the audience and the protagonist has gone through, one can't help but look for something warm to hold onto.
There were elements in this film that reminded me of Wes Anderson's Rushmore, as Aaron, our protagonist, has this need to create a false persona to avoid social hardships and to be standing and recognised on the same level as his wealthy classmates. Unlike Max Fischer in Rushmore, Aaron's rationales for his facade carry a much heavier weight, which made it easier for me to empathise for his decisions and sympathise for his feelings.
The film could have simply been a conventionally told story and dampened by its sentimentality, but Soderbergh handles it with such balance and precision that the film contains only the right amount of both conventionality and sentimentality. I was truly impressed with the director's choice to go slightly pessimistic in both its emotions and atmosphere during the early stages of the third act, as it made our protagonist feel like a human being rather than just hollow plot driver, also this change of tone showed me that Soderbergh is willing to take risks and show suffering in a pragmatic way.
I am going to make an assumption and state that this film was built by a limited budget, which made it difficult to create a richly detailed environment of the Depression era. Soderbergh was able to counter this through focusing its film on the protagonist and limiting his movement from different locations, but the aspect that truly drawn me into the film's world is its warm-palette photography. The photography not only immersed me physically, but it also hit me at an emotional and empathetic level, where I too can feel the heat that is surrounding Aaron, getting closer and hotter as the film progresses.
The performance brought by Jesse Bradford certainly deserves high recognition, as he was able to display both the innocence and vulnerability of a child while also showing that he is strong-willed boy who would go through great lengths for survival. The film's supporting cast was also strong with memorable performances by Adrien Brody, Spalding Gray, Lisa Eichhorn, and Jeroen Krabbe.
King of the Hill is a special coming of age films that isn't afraid to go towards the darker side of the spectrum to deliver realistic conditions of the 1930s, while also retaining that child-like sensibility that allows the film to be universally accessible. So far this is the most impressive feat I have seen from film-retired director, Steven Soderbergh.